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Archives: February 2006

FishbowlNY Takes a Literary Turn

mblogo.jpgI don’t know how many of you regular GalleyCat readers also read our sister blog, FishbowlNY, but some posts yesterday afternoon overlapped with our publishing scene, so I thought I’d call them to your attention. First they sat in on a Douglas Rushkoff seminar on interactivity, where Dorian Benkoil (our big boss) learned that “while the best-selling books [Rushkoff's] written weren’t exactly ‘loss leaders’ they are the ‘entrée to live engagements, which are the money makers.’ In other words, he and others now write books so people will book them for other stuff that ultimately make them more money.” (You have to write books to do that? I thought I could skate by with blogging as my foot in the door…damn.)

Then Greg Lindsay ran a piece on Nick Antosca, the young Yale alum who tried to schmooze a fellow Eli into giving him a Rush & Malloy mention for selling his first book.

American Book Pros, Brace Yourselves

How funny is it that the very day Sarah writes about authors being nice or not so nice, Lord Jeffrey Archer is back in the news? In his first television interview after having served two years in jail for a perjury conviction, Archer spoke to the BBC about his future plans: “I’m not taking any interest in politics. I’m not involved in politics in any way. My life is in writing now.” He gives a few more details into his personal life to Observer readers in a column about how he spent his week: running a nine-minute mile before breakfast, buying an iron bridge for his backyard, and preparing for the publication of False Impression. “They tell me that they’ve had requests for me to do everything from Celebrity Big Brother to the Today programme,” he writes. “We settle for Andrew Marr and Richard and Judy… On Thursday I did a podcast interview, but not until my younger son, James, had explained to me what an iPod is.” False Impression will be published in the U.S. any day now; the St. Martin’s website doesn’t mention any tour dates, but he could always surprise you!

The Elements of Style, Amazon Edition

After years of relying on its customers to provide content for the site in the form of reviews, recently invited authors to share in the workload with a blog hosting program called AmazonConnect. Now that it’s been up and running for a while, it seems Amazon has some feedback for the participants. Somebody passed along an email sent to all AmazonConnect participants, thanking them for helping create “a unique and compelling experience” for Amazon customers, and then telling them how to do a better job. Because if you’re going to get talented people to create content for you for free, you don’t want their sloppy seconds.

“Up to this point, we’ve provided with you very basic guidelines for posting,” the message goes on. “We would like to take the opportunity now to give you some constructive feedback on posting practices that we feel do not contribute to a good customer experience.” Among the sloppy habits they’d like authors to abandon: “re-purposing or serializing material from your books,” “posting reviews in place of writing posts,” and “filling your post with multiple links to other sites.” They also recommend taking customer feedback from voting and comments into account “as a way to craft future messages.”

“Yeah, I got it,” said AmazonConnect participant John Scalzi when I asked him if the message was authentic, “and was mildly amused by it, since it has the tone of a harried kindergarten teacher trying to convince the children that the crayons are not for eating. Interestingly, several of the suggestions are antithetical to what blogging is (don’t link to stuff on other sites? come on), which suggests Amazon might not have been entirely clear on what blogging is.” He added that the problems with the program are more Amazon’s fault than the authors’: “Jamming the blogs right into people’s faces without warning when they sign in to Amazon annoys people (the blogs look like unsolicited advertising), and it also means that Amazon has ceded control of its front page to a bunch of people whose content they don’t control, which is not the way I’d run my own business’ front page, personally.”

“What would really be interesting,” he concludes, “is if the authors start complaining on their Amazon blogs about the e-mail, and then someone at Amazon panics and deletes the entry, thereby starting an avalanche of author-Amazon silliness that gets covered in the media and blogs, and ends up with they guy at Amazon who suggested the ‘plogs’ demoted to stuffing copies of The Da Vinci Code into boxes at the distribution center. Let us hasten the day!” Well, they can’t delete it from our blog, so the full letter (with my own guesses as to paragraph breaks, because the version forwarded to us was one long blur) appears after the jump!

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Who knew there was a name for this?

But of course, this is publishing, and all trends are affixed with catchy names. The latest is “gimmick lit” — those non-fiction books where the author does something transformative and writes about it. Think A.J. Jacobs’ THE KNOW-IT-ALL, Norah Vincent’s SELF-MADE MAN or Julie Powell’s JULIE & JULIA. So why are these books becoming so popular, asks the Boston Herald’s Lauren Beckham Falcone?

“Anything with a twist or a hook works,” said Jenny Bent, literary agent with Trident Media Group in Manhattan. “I think there is an appeal to the reader when a writer has some sort of vision to go out and get it done. You can compare these books to adventure narratives that were once so popular. We always want a view into other people’s lives, especially if the story provides insight.”

And even if it sounds overly trendy, the writers in question aren’t too worried. “On the one hand, it’s a good book, so I’m not too worried how it’s categorized,” said Maria Headley, author of THE YEAR OF YES. “On some level it helps, you know, in terms of ‘if you liked this book, then you might like this other one.’ And I really think people like the fish-out-of-water stories, which is generally what these books are.”

Octavia Butler dead at 58

Several blogs had the news first, but the Associated Press confirms the death of noted science fiction writer Octavia Butler as a result of a fall outside her home. Butler was the first black woman to gain prominence within the genre, and the first SF writer to be awarded a MacArthur genius grant.

At BoingBoing, Cory Doctorow recalls that “her oeuvre is too modest, but will never be forgotten” and that “the field and the world has lost someone wonderful this weekend.” Steven Barnes adds that “for a time, Octavia and I lived within walking distance, and she would come to the house for dinner. A lady of incredible intelligence and rather dark humor, she was also what I called “a REAL writer.” She put so much more of herself into her work than I ever have, or would be capable of.”

NY Comic-Con Packed All Weekend Long

The Javits Center was packed tight all weekend for the first New York Comic-Con—as Newsarama reports, Saturday’s crowds were, thanks to an aggressive local media campaign, “not a lot in terms of a comic book convention, but a lot in terms of a rock show.” As people lined up all over the front of the convention center, the earliest panels began before many fans had even gotten onto the main floor; the show had completely sold out by 12:30 and state police were keeping a tight rein on people coming in and out of the exhibition. “There was just a demand and a walk-up crowd that we had just never anticipated,” said NYCC director Greg Topalian in a separate interview with Newsarama. “The man who runs the Javits Center literally pulled me aside and said that in twenty years of running this building, he’d never seen a crowd of this magnitude, especially considering how little space we were occupying.” (Comic-Con was only occupying half the main floor, as the New York Times Travel Show was also taking place that weekend; Topalian conceded that “there’s no way we can run it in the same size space” come 2007.)

comicon-weekend.jpgI was glad I’d spent time out on the main exhibition floor Friday, then, because it was only with my press pass that I was able to get anywhere near it Saturday. I did manage to catch up with my friends Elizabeth Genco and Leland Purvis (bottom), who had set up an exhibition table for their publishing venture, Streetfables. But for the most part, except for when I was running into stormtroopers and bounty hunters in the lobby (top left), I stuck to the DC and Marvel panels in the side rooms. Most of these were designed as showcases for publishing events like the closing issues of DC’s Infinite Crisis and its sequel 52 or Marvel’s Civil War, but the amount of actual information that came out of the discussions varied. Fans I spoke to had high praise for Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada’s willingness to reveal substanially new info, like design sketches from the forthcoming Eternals series by Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr., but they found DC panels frustrating; despite the amiable patter of the DC crew, some attendees felt they weren’t hearing much they hadn’t already seen online. (Some of this, however, may have been due to the fact that there had been a major convention in San Francisco just two weeks earlier.) At DC’s “Better than Ever” panel, for example, newly appointed Justice League of America writer Brad Meltzer (top right) had a stock answer for nearly every question from the audience: “I’m not telling you anything.”

What I did learn fresh from DC’s panels ultimately had more to do with their creative mindset as they relaunch their comics “One Year Later” starting Wednesday, bringing a single tonality to the DC Universe. “This is the voice of our world,” said executive editor Dan Didio, “and we’ll build characters around that voice.” But in a very real sense, the most revealing panel I got myself into was on “the future of the graphic novel,” where writer-artists like Jessica Abel and R. Kikuo Johnson talked about their latest projects and a publishing climate that seems more receptive than ever to serious graphic storytelling. “Now is the time to grow the market actively,” said Grady Klein. Brian Fies, whose Mom’s Cancer was launching a new graphic novel line from Abrams, agreed, hoping for all sorts of stories in the format. “I’d love to see a veternarian write a graphic novel,” he enthused. “Comics should be a medium artists go to for anything.”

Heidi MacDonald and Christopher Butcher were among the press attendees offering additional coverage. And I caught a glimpse of Jessa Crispin just outside the press room, too, so I imagine she’ll be writing something later this week. And Calvin Reid was working the PW Comic Week beat pretty strong. (In addition to reporting, the Comics Week crew, which also includes MacDonald and Douglas Wolk, were also moderating panels; MacDonald also served as a consultant to Reed Exhibitions, the convention’s organizers.) See also the mainstream press accounts from NYT, NYDN, and Newsday

The ingredients for bestsellerdom

It’s an age-old question, how to turn a book into a bestseller (especially if there hasn’t been a massive pre-publication campaign to boost such efforts in a more-or-less artificial manner — the most recent example being Time Warner UK’s upcoming campaign for Mark Billingham’s next book, BURIED), and the Independent’s Danuta Kean thinks she has the answer. What is it? Oh, how about being nice and professional:

[Such authors] are prepared to wait until the last fan’s copy of their latest book is signed, and to visit libraries, schools and book festivals in the back of beyond to talk to tiny audiences of enthusiastic readers who will spread the word about them. The result is huge loyalty among booksellers and librarians who are willing to push their work.

And what if you’re just not able to be nice, will it hurt your career? Sure looks that way. “There are a handful of authors who are notorious and whose sales have never amounted to the promise of their first book,” says one anonymous publisher. “It isn’t a coincidence. You don’t want to push someone’s book when they are nasty.”

Of course, one can’t help but think that this is an extremely facile way to look at things. How else to explain the legions of supremely nice, professional authors who never get anywhere and the habitual bestsellers who make the lives of everyone around them — but especially those within their publishing house — an utter living hell? (Anyone else have fond memories of the Golden Dartboards handed out by the Media Escort Network to authors behaving badly on tour?) But it’s hard to argue against being professional in any discipline — and that doesn’t just apply to writers.

Still shagging after all these years

In the midst of doom, gloom and seriousness, sometimes it’s nice to kick back with a doorstopper of a steamy saga. And who better than Jilly Cooper, who shoehorned the subgenre for her own with RIVALS, published back in 1970? Now she’s back with a new book, WICKED! (not to be confused with Gregory Maguire’s exclamation point-lacking novel) which explores the underside of schooling, private and public. But as she tells the Bookseller, her publishers insisted she get with the times with regards to sex scenes:

“There’s a sex scene in the [WICKED!, due out this May from Transworld] where the copy-editor insisted I put in a condom. She said, ‘The reader will be so in love with this character by now she will like him behaving in a responsible way.’ I’ve never had a condom in a sex scene before and I found it extremely difficult. I’m just not that generation.” She laughs now at the joke of having been forced to clean up the sex, but says she was “very sulky” at the time.

But considering she was recently awarded an OBE for services to literature, Cooper concedes that she’s “becoming slightly more respectable,” in her golden years.

Wottakar’s roundup

To merge, or not to merge, that is the question. But for Richard Ratner, Director and Head of Equities for Seymour Pierce, it’s ridiculous that there are even criticisms of HMV’s plans to take over Ottakar’s. “I feel very strongly that the near hysteria at the time that the deal was announced was whipped up by the [Publishers Association],” he tells Publishing News. “It appears to have done its best to sow seeds of ‘doom and gloom’ amongst the authors and some of the book-buying public.”

And unless the specialists can compete with the superstores on bestsellers, “then, in time, they will have to take stock of the number and size of units that they have and, just as importantly, the ranges that they carry.”

Meanwhile, Permira isn’t out of the running to take over HMV, as they’ve put forward a revised bid at 200 pence per share — up from the 190 pence that was rejected earlier this month.

And what of independent booksellers? The Telegraph meets James Daunt, owner of an eponymous chain of 4 shops in London. The stores have been successful with the city’s middle-class literati thanks to knowledgeable staff and good customer service, and Daunt has no plans to expand to Waterstone’s like numbers. Interestingly, he’s rooting for the merger to take place: “Ottakar’s is extremely dangerous to independent booksellers and leads to them closing down. It is run by a brilliant entrepreneur [James Heneage], whereas Waterstone’s has been static for years. If it bags Ottakar’s, it will kill that entrepreneurial spirit stone dead.” Leaving more good news for people like…himself.

B&N to Marin County; Citizens grumble

Who would have thought an incoming Barnes & Noble store would create such a fight? But in Marin County, where customers can go to the famed independent Book Passage (which is known for a steady stream of events as well as a writer’s conference every summer) people are annoyed with the city’s decree that there’s no legal reason to stop B&N’s relocation to the Town Center — in spite of a petition signed by over 220 people that was presented to Corte Madera’s city council:

Local business owner Lisa Wilhelm was dumbfounded. “This is unbelievable to me,” [she] said. “You mean to tell me, we can’t put together a group of people to discuss the balance and diversity of our community? This is not a Book Passage issue. This is a town issue.”

Town attorney Jeff Walter sees things differently. “First and foremost, the general plan spells out distinctly for uses of bookstores and they can move to and operate in those shopping centers,” but since a lease has been negotiated, their hands are allegedly tied.

I guess they’d rather wait and see if the predictions of doom & gloom come true than actually do something about it…